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Unnatural Appetites

Since I was 11 years old I have been on a medication called sodium valproate.  For the first few years I came off the medication twice but had further seizures, so at the age of 17 I was put on them permanently to control the tonic-clonic/grand mal (depending on your age when I was diagnosed, the medical term changed) seizures I suffered having been diagnosed with epilepsy.

The medication has several side effects, none of which were explained to my parents or myself at diagnosis.  I did not find out about them until I asked at 18 years old, having done a bit of research myself.  It was not until my first smear test that I was told getting pregnant would be a big no-no due to severe foetal abnormalities, and should only be attempted under the guidance of medical professionals.  How lucky I have never wanted children then

Me & Lynne aged approx 12

Me on the left aged 12, the age of diagnosis

The biggest and most impactful side effect is that of the unnatural appetite.  This is something I have struggled with and will continue to struggle with for the rest of my (hopefully long and delightfully weird) life.

I have an identical twin sister.  Until the point of medication, she and I weighed the same.  After diagnosis and medication, I put on at least 14 pounds and since that time was “the Fat Twin”™.  It’s a thing with twins by the way.  You always get “the Clever One”, “the Pretty One”, “the Good One”, “the Weird One” or some such ridiculous definition which limits and boxes you even though it is simply meant to differentiate you for the benefit of people who cannot be bothered to learn your names.

Me aged 13 ish

Aged 13 or 14.

I could see what I SHOULD look like, given the fact we ate pretty the same things and were the same height, and did the same activities.  We did not, and I continued to be bigger as we got older.  I had an Unnatural Appetite.

To help explain what that means, imagine you are really hungry.  I don’t mean just in need of a snack to raise your energy levels, or possibly thirsty as that feels the same as hunger.  I mean a gnawing pain in the stomach which causes you to wake in the middle of the night, to want to or actually to cry, to be unable to rest and to know, without a doubt, that unless you eat something you will not sleep/concentrate/be able to do anything.  Now imagine never knowing if your hunger is because your body needs sustenance or because your medication is telling you lies.

I have burst into desperate tears whilst at work behind the Student Union Bar, I have woken in the middle of the night more times than I can remember and have been unable to sleep without eating a bowl of cereal (which my husband can attest to), I have felt faint (not fun when you have epilepsy as you immediately think you may start seizing), I have become snappy and desperate, and the mistrust of my body and the messages it sends will always have a detrimental impact on me.

All of this I could cope with, all of it, if it weren’t for the fact I live in a society where women are not supposed to have appetites let alone unnatural ones.  I have had abuse hurled at me from passing cars, I have been teased since I was 12, by adults and children, I have had it made very clear to me that I am considered ugly by societal standards, and I call BULLSHIT!

Me aged 38 at the slimmest I've ever been as an adult

Aged 38, and the slimmest I have ever been since the age of 21.

Because part of my weight is due to medication side effects, I will never be the model of societal beauty.  The pressure and the cruelty most certainly impacted my eventual diagnosis of clinical depression (which I still and always will suffer from, and I am currently on a very low dose of medication for this too).

That should not matter though.  It is entirely irrelevant if there is a reason for a woman’s (cisgender or transgender, the societal pressures are the same as they apply to the perceived gender) size, it is no-one’s business but their own and it is a ridiculous, cruel and sexist standard to hold anyone to, let alone to oppress and suppress an entire gender identity because of it.

Consider the knock-on effect. As a result of the poor self-image I have, I may model poor self-image to others although I try extremely hard not to.  I don’t judge anyone in the way I am judged because I know how it feels, but these things are very deeply ingrained.  I am sure I have treated past partners badly, ready to disbelieve their attraction to me and run at the first hint of any trouble or assume the worst at all times.

No-one exists in a vacuum, untouched and unheard, nor unhearing.  The abuse I have received and that I perceive against people of all colours, all gender identities, all disabilities, all sexualities, has an effect as well.  It is inculcated societal bullying, behaviour we do not accept on the school playground, and damn well should not accept as adults and yet we do.  Myriad internet posts refer to the fatness of celebrities, female politicians are harangued for their looks instead of their policies (and no, if a man is harangued for his looks it is not seen as affecting his ability to do his job whereas it does for a woman, so it is NOT the same thing).

SFW44

This picture is of me, now, cosplaying Willow Rosenberg at the SFW8 convention last February.  I may never be comfortable in my own skin, but I am going to strive to ensure that no-one else feels the same way as me.

I have an unnatural appetite due to medication, and I have a large body due to disability, medication and a joy of sweet foods.  I never was a ‘pretty young thing’ nor will I ever be a pretty old thing.  But as long as I get to be an old thing I’m going to do my absolute best to be happy about it, even if it is despite myself.

So, don’t fat-shame or body-shame, all it does is show your ignorance, prejudice and bigotry.  I’d rather have a fat body than be a fathead, and so should you.

Are you Happy for Me to Die, Mrs May?

nhs-nye-bevan

There is only one political issue that has me absolutely terrified about my future and my life, literally, and it is the debate over the survival of the NHS.

The NHS IS in crisis, despite what the current government repeat so often that it seems they are trying to convince themselves, not us (the fact that 70 MPs have financial interests in private healthcare companies in no way reflects any sort of a bias in parliamentary attitudes and policy creation and implementation, of course).

Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross stated on 6th January of this years that his organisation is “responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country. We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”

I know this election is about far more than the NHS, but each issue does not stand alone and although this issue is the one that could kill me if the Conservatives win, there is so much more at stake than that.

Immigration is an issue which is intrinsically tied into the survival of the NHS.  One in seven immigrants in this country is employed by the NHS many on wages so low that under Conservative proposals they will no longer be able to be employed by the NHS and will face deportation.  There are not sufficient numbers of qualified doctors to replace those we may lose, let alone replace the support staff who will be the ones facing deportation due to lack of high enough wages to meet Conservative requirements.  In the Conservative’s own words (pages 54 and 55 of the Conservative Manifesto – bold highlight my own):

Controlling immigration Britain is an open economy and a welcoming society and we will always ensure that our British businesses can recruit the brightest and best from around the world and Britain’s world-class universities can attract international students. We also believe that immigration should be controlled and reduced, because when immigration is too fast and too high, it is difficult to build a cohesive society.

 Thanks to Conservatives in government, there is now more control in the system. The nature of the immigration we have – more skilled workers and university students, less abuse and fewer unskilled migrants – better suits the national interest. But with annual net migration standing at 273,000, immigration to Britain is still too high. It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades.

We will, therefore, continue to bear down on immigration from outside the European Union. We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas. We will toughen the visa requirements for students, to make sure that we maintain high standards. We will expect students to leave the country at the end of their course, unless they meet new, higher requirements that allow them to work in Britain after their studies have concluded. Overseas students will remain in the immigration 55 statistics – in line with international definitions – and within scope of the government’s policy to reduce annual net migration.

Leaving the European Union means, for the first time in decades, that we will be able to control immigration from the European Union too. We will therefore establish an immigration policy that allows us to reduce and control the number of people who come to Britain from the European Union, while still allowing us to attract the skilled workers our economy needs”.

National Debt to 2016 - ONS

Source – the Office of National Statistics

The austerity cuts that the Conservatives have presided over since 2010, first in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and then in 2015 when they were elected with a majority, have not succeeded.  The country is in far more debt that before 2010.

As a result of this disabled people, a community of which I am proud to be a member, and fortunate enough in my disability to be able to work full-time and not face the issues many of my friends are facing, are dying in their hundreds if not thousands, and yet you continue to deny any link, even when the link is specifically stated in a suicide note, such instances which there has been more than one public report.  Have a google, Mrs May, and you will soon see the truth, if you have the wit and care to see it.  If you think the decimation of the NHS has nothing to do with this you know nothing about disability, Mrs May.

Look at my face, look at my humanity.  Look at me, Mrs May, if you need a face to put to the terror you are inflicting.  You will kill me, Mrs May, with your non-costed and ill-thought out policies.  You are killing many already, Mrs May.  I hope you can live with that, if you continue on the path to privatisation.

You are not strong and stable, Mrs May.  You are stubborn and blindly privileged, and you are killing people.  People are terrified, and it is you causing that terror.  I’m sure there is a noun for a person who causes such fear.  What would that be, Mrs May?  Can you think of the word?  Because that is what you and your Conservative party are, to me.

The Value of My Friendship

What am I worth as a person?  Why would anyone want to be my friend, or even spend time with me?  Am I inept as a person, pointless, valueless in both time spent with me and the person that I am?  Why would I inflict myself on anyone?

These thoughts used to spin round my head constantly, and to be perfectly frank with myself, they still do.  Social anxiety quite often comes with depression, either before it develops or as a symptom afterward and I still struggle with the idea that I have a worth and that people will want to spend time with me, just me, not for any particular reason.

For years I felt I had to have an excuse to visit with my friends.  I would be cooking them a meal, or had been invited by them for an evening/afternoon, or was helping them with a particular task.  Some tangible evidence that there was a point to my presence in their lives.  I could not simply pop over for a cup of tea, or drop by on the off-chance they were in just to hang out.  To put this in perspective, for 11 years I lived in a shared house of 10 people, in a housing cooperative of 125 people, all like-minded and, well, quite hippyish.  Even there, I could not visit the next door house, or even knock on the rooms of those in my own house.  Using the shared kitchen with others around became very difficult at times.

I know I’m not alone in this, and I do believe the destruction of ‘community’ is partly to blame.  We are no longer able to stay near our families, to work where we live and we become separated, our lives become compartmentalised, and casual socialising is no longer as easy as it once was.

There are many reasons for my social anxiety, but there is one particular incident which helped me to overcome my belief that I was not worthy to be a friend and it involved stepping way out of my comfort zone by putting myself first, and taking a huge risk.   It involved a man who in one simple conversation taught me that I am worthy, whatever I may think.

I was in love with him.  Well, I had a MASSIVE crush at any rate, and he was my best friend for quite some years.  It reached the point where it was painful to be near him because I simply could not turn those feelings off (I’m sure we all know how painful unrequited love is).  I knew he did not feel the same way about me without us ever having discussed it, and I had hoped for many months that the feelings would just die away, but they didn’t.

We would hang out almost every evening; I felt safe and it was a great laugh.  He was a genuinely good man.  Those ‘in love’ feelings developed in spite of me, and hope is a real bugger sometimes.  It doesn’t matter what the mind knows, the heart will hope on regardless.  I knew I couldn’t carry on, the pain was just too much for me.

So I wrote him a letter.  I stated exactly how I felt, and that I was completely aware that he did not return those feelings, and that it was okay, but it hurt too much to be around him and that I would not be coming over to visit for a while until I managed to get over it.  I had to write it down and deliver it to him because there was no chance in hell I would be able to actually speak those words.

I hoped he’d be okay with the letter but he really wasn’t.  He was very upset, but not because of what I’d said but because he didn’t want to lose me as a friend.  He valued my friendship, and he let me know that he valued it.  He understood, and he cared enough not to give false hope or to be embarrassed and wish it would all go away.  He missed me as a friend.

You have no idea how much that meant to me (well you do, because I’ve just told you).  It meant more than being a girlfriend or partner ever would.  That a person would tell me that he understood my feelings and that he valued my friendship, and that he was upset because I wouldn’t be around for a while meant so much.

Something clicked in my head, and a lightbulb went off.  A true moment of clarity, and I realised that whilst I was in love with him, that would pass, but the love of a true friend was worth far more to me than what would only ever be a transient ‘in love’ relationship (because deep down I always knew we were not really suited to the long term as a couple).

I still struggle with social anxiety, still find it difficult to pop over to see someone, but this memory helps me with that.  It helps me to realise that it is my psyche which is telling me I am not of value as a friend, not the reality of my friendships.  It’s not what I do that I am valued for, but who I am.  I know the value of my friendship now, and it is thanks to that man.

I will always love him for that, and I hope I am as good a friend to others as he was to me.

Friends

UK Election 2017 – Your Vote Is More Vital Than Ever Before

vote

Please vote. Your citizens, your community and your society needs YOU!

You still have time to register to vote in this upcoming, incredibly important election on Thursday 8th June 2017; registration closes on 22nd May 2017. It has never been more important than in this election yet myriad social media posts, articles, listicles, soundbites and other items have appeared which may confuse more than inform.

Don’t forget, though, local council elections on 4th May 2017 as well – many of you have two chances within five weeks to guide this country the way you want it to go!

I would ask you to bear in mind the following when picking your party:

  1. You are voting for a party, not a person. However much you may actually like your MP, is the party they represent the best for the country as a whole?  Read the manifestos if you can, links to the political party websites are below.
  2. This is not a one issue election, they never are.  The method by which the UK will Brexit is just one of many policies under discussion.  Make an informed choice, not a knee-jerk reactionary fearful one which the media and many politician seem to be attempting to force us all to do.
  3. Vote for what will be best for the country, not simply for yourself. It is too easy to vote simply to better your own position, but how can that be right if it means others will suffer?  Under the governments of the last 20, even 30, years the position of those without money, without accessibility, without equality, has worsened.  Picking the party that will potentially (not actually) increase the money in your pocket and for no other reason is selfish and in my view, immoral.
  4. Politicians argue with each other, that’s a very large part of their job. Try to analyse what they are saying.  Is it backed up by facts from independent sources, or if they are making promises, how are they intending to carry them out?  What is the costing for each policy? Where is the money coming from?

Look at the record of the party; what have they enacted previously? What was the result of such enactment?  Have they kept their promises? Do you trust the party to carry out their pledges, based on past behaviour?  Check out the voting record of your MP and any other you wish to check out, by clicking here.

A lot of people may intend not to vote and there are so many reasons for this.  More people didn’t vote in the last election in 2015 than actually voted for the winning party.  Think how those votes could have changed things!  You might think not voting indicates your disaffection with the system and lack of belief in it, but no-one will know that and the country is stuck with the result regardless.

I am voting Labour in this election; I live in a borough where it is a safe seat and I believe, upon reading all the manifestos and having followed my own suggestions, that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is the best chance for a brighter future for the majority of us, in particular the disenfranchised, discriminated against and downtrodden members of society.

What I am sure of is that another term of a Conservative government will lead to more deaths, more pain, more hate and more divisiveness, and I am terrified that it will mean no more NHS.

If recent elections have shown us anything it is that if you believe your vote will have no effect so you don’t bother, then the worst candidate may actually be elected. Yes, United States of America, I am looking at you.  You may not be interested in politics, but it is interested in you.   Don’t let it be a one-way relationship.  Vote, and don’t let yourself be silenced.

Be informed and be the change we all need everyone to be.

Other sources of help in this election (also do a web search for articles and information):
UK Trans” – UK Transgender advice/campaigning site.
Operation Black Vote” – political campaigning site for BAME people.
Stonewall” – LGBTQPIA advice and campaign group.
Disability Rights UK” – Disabled persons’ advice and campaigning group.
In addition, advice for disability access when voting can be located by clicking here.

Party Websites/Manifestos (copy/cut and paste, or click the link):
Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
 (Northern Ireland https://allianceparty.org/)
Conservative Party (Tories https://www.conservatives.com/)
Democratic Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.mydup.com/)
Green Party (England and Wales https://www.greenparty.org.uk/)
Labour Party (http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/home/)
Liberal Democrat Party (http://www.libdems.org.uk/)
Plaid Cymru (Wales http://www2.plaid.cymru/)
Scottish Green Party (https://greens.scot/)
Scottish National Party (https://www.snp.org/)
Sinn Féin (Northern Ireland http://www.sinnfein.ie/)
Social Democrat & Labour Party (Northern Ireland http://www.sdlp.ie/)
UK Independence Party (UKIP http://www.ukip.org/)
Ulster Unionist Party (Northern Ireland http://www.uup.org/)

May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears

Proportional Representation-One Person, One Vote That Counts!

I have just about recovered from the results of the UK General Election in 2015 (no, I haven’t) but am very nervous for the upcoming local elections on Thursday 4th May (ruining Star Wars Day, thanks!).  In the general election the Conservative party ended up with a majority having received 36.7% of the votes cast in total, which represents 24% of those who are actually registered to vote.  12% more people chose not to vote at all than chose to vote for the party that now controls the United Kingdom (even with Northern Ireland and Scotland having devolved, funding and much policy still derives from the London-based Parliament).  The current make-up of the House of Commons can be found by clicking here.

It rapidly became clear that the number of seats won did not reflect the amount of votes cast for each party.  That is how our First-Past-The-Post voting with its unevenly-populated electoral borough for each MP system works.  In other words, and as I have written before, it doesn’t.  Moreover, this situation has been steadily worsening for decades.  There has not been a government formed by a party who have achieved a clear majority vote since 1931.  To put that into more perspective that is only 3 years after there were finally equal voting rights for men and women in the United Kingdom.

Six years ago there was a referendum to decide if we would stick with FPTP or move to an Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which preferred candidates are ranked according to preference, and votes are counted until one candidate receives a majority of all votes cast.   This is the system used by many of the political parties to elect their leadership – UKIP, Labour, Lib Dem, Green Party, and the Conservatives, who use a series of FPTP votes which seems to me to be AV in a more costly format.  I could not find the relevant information for Plaid Cymru, SNP, Democratic Unionists or Ulster Unionists without joining, but please do research for yourselves!

The No vote won this simple Yes/No choice, but the reasons varied from those who did not understand AV to those who wished to retain FPTP to those who believed a vote for AV would mean never getting Proportional Representation.  Only 41% of registered voters exercised their right to choose Yes or no on AV.  I say it is time for a Yes/No vote on Proportional Representation.

2015 election by PR

I find the UKIP vote result scary, but under PR everyone would have a choice of all parties; who knows how that would change the outcome.

Simply put, proportional representation would mean that each party receives a percentage of seats in parliament equal to the percentage of votes cast by the electorate for that party.  So if a party got 20% of the vote, they would receive 20% of the seats.  If this system were in place now, then UKIP would have 99 MPs and the Green Party would have 37 MPs, instead of the one apiece they have.

2015 election by FPTP

What we have now. Not exactly a democratic system, by any statistical analysis.

Proportional Representation needs careful thought.  A significant factor is that MPs would be selected by parties for seats in the Houses of Parliament meaning they would not be representative of the local areas any more.  Constituencies would not be required, and this needs to be addressed if people are going to feel they are represented and they have somewhere to take grievances or issues.  There must be clear guidance on the issues and delineation as to local/national decisions must be put in place before PR is enacted.

Local councils and Mayors would need to be elected separately as they are now, but with specific remit to represent their constituents to Parliament.  For example, if there were objections to a bypass being built through a village to circumvent a town, then the local government would be able to represent its people in any objections there may be, and they would have the devolved powers to do so.  Parliament published a summary of proposals for devolution to local government in England on 20th May 2015, and this can be accessed here.

It is very important that local government will be able to hold central government accountable for its actions; each must be the other’s arbiter.  This is also why we must retain our rights under the European Convention of Human Rights, so that citizens have a place of appeal beyond that of local and central government.

The move to proportional representation is not one to be taken lightly.  It will mean that parties you do not agree with will gain seats, as well as those you do.  However, if we are to have a fairer electoral system we must accept that those we disagree with have an equal right to be heard.  Who knows what the results of a PR election may be though?  Tactical and protest voting will no longer be necessary as there will be candidates across the country for whom you may vote; each person will have the same parties to vote for.  It must be a system in which the smallest marginal party can stand next to the largest national party.  Specific local issues will be dealt with under specific local government.

This will be a massive undertaking and the UK government is scheduled to debate the introduction after a recent petition on the government website reached over 103,000 signatures before closing at midnight on Thursday 6th April 2017.

Political and constitutional reform demands nothing less than intimate, forensic-level research and implementation.  However difficult and complicated the shift to Proportional Representation may be, it cannot be less fair than the system under which we currently operate.  Put simply, Proportional Representation needs to happen.

vote

The Sexual Gaze

I recently posted a meme of a well-known male actor on Facebook, which had him removing his jacket, shirt and tie (although leaving a white vest on so he was well-covered).  This meme had originally been posted with a header simply stating “ladies, you’re welcome”.  I re-posted with “persons of all persuasions, you’re welcome!” to make this less heteronormative (i.e. the default state in our society in which heterosexual attractions are the ones seen as appropriate and normal).

rainbow flag

I was called out on the posting by a friend who stated “Sorry, but you’d all be going mental if a bloke put the same thing up with a woman in it”.  I’ve tried to find a similar meme featuring a woman owning her sexuality and stripping down to a vest but couldn’t find one.  My friend makes a good point though; I had posted this publicly because of the redressing of the heteronormativity but as it was public, it was open to all interpretations by people who are not versed in gender politics and the differences between how men and women are perceived sexually.  There is a difference in posting a man and posting a woman enacting the same activity such as inciting sexual attraction.

I did not define the context in which I was posting and my friend was right to call me out on it.

There is a fundamental difference in how men and women are treated in expressing their sexualities.  Posting like-for-like memes differing only in gender are not the same.

In our society men are seen as people with sexual subjectivity, as active participants in their own sex lives.  Women are seen as sexual objects, passive receptors of sexual activity.  It is from this that rape culture is derived, and the double-standards still so prevalent in our society; the slut/stud dichotomy.  This is equally applicable to cisgender or transgender people but due to the transphobia transgender people are subjected to, such standards may be more violently applied.  Transgender women in particular are more likely to be on the receiving end of violence than any other gender identity, often when a partner or family member ‘realises’ or is told they are transgender*.

When a meme such as the one I refer to above is posted, it is presumed that if it features a male body then the man in it is empowered and sexually active, and it is for him to act on sexual expressions which may be inspired by this.

When a meme features a female body then (apart from more clothes being removed thus affecting the true comparative nature of the memes) it is presumed that it is for the male gaze and the woman is an object in the sexuality inspired by the meme.

The famous diet coke advert theme in which a male strips off and women line up to watch for a ‘diet coke break’ but that is all they do, and if the male notices there is an arch smile, the inference that he could be sexually active with any one of the women watching and he knows it.  There is no sense of entitlement to sexual activity from the women, there is from the man.  That is the fundamental difference in a nutshell.

More simply put, the comparison made by my friend is not an equivalent one because society does not treat the genders as equal.

I am a Sexuality (known as Sex in the wider debating community) Positive identifying person I do not believe in suppressing sexual identity or activity, as long as enthusiastic, informed, updated consent is present.  I do not believe in censorship.  What I do believe in, whole-heartedly, is equality of sexual expression and gender identity.

People attracted to men expressing their sexuality whole-heartedly and without repression is joyous, and that is what the meme of Tom Hardy (for ‘twas him removing said jacket, shirt and tie) was about for me, so in response to my friend – yes, I should have put the post in context and/or not made it public in order to make that clear.  However, an ‘equal’ meme of a woman removing clothing would not be comparable for the reasons stated.

Daily Mail Legsit

It doesn’t matter if you support either of these women, this headline is unacceptable.

The sexual gaze is gendered.  Society is unequal.  This is evident in television programmes, media representations of gender (for example, this headline on the meeting of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon in 2015’s Newspaper of the Year as voted by the London Press Club, the fourth win in 11 years, and which paper remains the most popular online), in classic art (see examples, below, both beautiful works of art), in the constant scrutiny of women as passive objects, men as active subjects; I could go on but I think you get where I’m going with this!

david by michaelangelo

“David” by Michaelangelo, standing tall and strong, active in his pose, eating an apple and gazing off to the horizon. Nothing is covered, because there is no shame in male nudity.

This isn’t a new thing; it’s been ingrained for centuries and continues to be so through mainstream attitudes surrounding us and we are all influenced by such inequalities.  If you aren’t sure how it is passed on, and you have teenage friends/children of friends who post memes on facebook, observe for a while what they post especially differentiated by gender.  It will open your eyes, but be warned, once see it can never be unseen!

Venus by Botticelli

“Venus” by Botticelli, almost in the same position as David, but head bent in a submissive position whilst looking at the viewer, her nudity semi-covered with her long hair and one hand covering only one breast; the Goddess of Love smothered but still available to the prurient gaze.

One way to fight inequality is to celebrate heterosexual women, gay men, and bisexual/pansexual people of all genders having sexual agency, and that is what the meme which inspired the post should be about, for me (thus my original amendment to the reason it was posted in the first place).  Gay women have the female body but it tends towards depictions idealised with the male gaze in mind.  The ‘perfect’ female body (which is cisgender, usually white, tall, slim and passive) is one intended for male consumption.  You cannot compare images of different genders in similar style, the basis of comparison is not one of equality.

Now when I post memes to inspire sexual agency in those who do not have it under patriarchy, I can post this blog!

Context, solved!

NB: all references to men and women are inclusive of cisgender and transgender identifying-people.

* http://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2017

* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/transphobic-hate-crime-statistics-violence-transgender-uk-police-a7159026.html

 

 

Sci-Fi Weekender 8; or How I Popped My Cosplay Cherry

SFW44

Day one: Willow, BTVS

SFW43

Day two: Dana Scully, The X-Files

Wales is responsible for many things; dragons, leeks, rain and Torchwood to name but four.  Now another auspicious event is added to that number, for at Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli, North Wales, I popped my cos-playing cherry and created not one, but TWO costumes to be worn over the weekend (okay, it’s Thursday to Sunday, but that’s close enough).

As you can see, they are both really simple, and in fact the Willow costume is only the jumper as I could neither afford nor find the rest of it.  However, I did make that jumper – no I didn’t knit it, I bought it and sourced the applique/patches/daisies (thanks Emma for saving the costume when I was notified that it would take TWO MONTHS to ship my original daisy order), sewed them on with my fair little hands, and I also made the FBI badge inserting my own headshot in place of The Divine™ Ms Gillian Anderson.

Willow and Scully, two iconic redheads whom I adore with a passion verging on unnecessary; who else was I going to be?

Well, two seconds of wandering around the site (which was huge and had many, many activities and items on which to squander my groats) I realised that I am a hopeless, bumbling, pathetic amateur meandering in awestruck wonder through the realms of Cosplay Royalty.  What was created and worn by my fellow attendees was incredible!

And yet, I did not feel jealous or inadequate…

Seriously, have a look at some of these:

SFW42 SFW41SFW4

L-R: (1) Lucien, librarian to Lord Morpheus (2) Kaecillius, foe of Dr Strange (3) Double Willow!

SFW5SFW13SFW10

L-R: (1) Cyberman & Dr No 12 (yes, I include the War Doctor) (2) a Dalek, (3) No idea but I like it.

SFW39

The Group Costumes were awesome too.  Cyberman, in case you hadn’t read the previous caption.

SFW19SFW40SFW17

L-R: (1) Lady Sybil Vimes (2) No idea, which is embarrassing as that is my friend Philippa in the costume (3) Boba Fett

There were so very many more, all just as good.

But the best thing?  Not at any time did I feel judged, or belittled, or unworthy, because my costume did not measure up.  Instead, the only feeling was joy in sharing a love for all things geek, especially the women, because we are still very much under-represented in all aspects of geek culture, either sexed up for the gaze of the hetero-male viewer, or seen as an add-on, or not a ‘real geek’.  It’s a thing, trust me.  Or don’t, have a google, I would suggest you start with ‘Gamergate’ and move on from there…

Even the wonderful Big Bang Theory only goes so far in including women in the geekfest; the women do not want to go to Comic Con (really?  WHAT’S WRONG WITH THEM?!) and whilst I applaud the fabulous representation of women in STEM careers that BBT encourages, it is very frustrating that geek culture is still very much predominantly white, male and straight.

When I try to buy graphic novels, I am still hard-pressed to find a female-led or even female-participant product, and this was reflected at the SFW convention in the panel for comic artists.  Authors are more likely to be female.

That is a criticism of geek culture as a whole, and certainly not of the SFW experience.  It was inclusive and very supportive at all turns, even with the children wandering around during the day in all the cutest costumes – I especially loved the family groups in which it was clear the costumes were built around what their children loved (baby Ewok and mini-glittery Wonder Woman, I’m looking at you!).

So, I popped my Cosplay cherry and as I thought might happen, I now want more.

What to do next, I ponder…  Any other famous geek gingers I can imitate?

Suggestions welcome!

Happy Valentine’s Day

A reconstruction of St Valentine based on digital mapping and reconstruction of his remains; approx 55 years old European white male.  Created in Brazil 2016/17.

A reconstruction of St Valentine based on digital mapping and reconstruction of his remains; approx 55 years old European white male. Created in Brazil 2016/17.

Have you kissed your Sooterkin* this morning?  Held them a little bit closer as the love fills your heart that little bit more, in recognition of this day set aside for the lovers?  Have you bought that special bit of card which makes profit for big business and glue for relationships?  Perhaps flowers, chocolates, silly little gifts or a massive declaration of your love through money has been made?

Or not.  For so many of us loneliness is magnified today, as at all special dates on our calendars, because of the emphasis of togetherness, of coupledom (for seldom seen are the polyamory-celebrating cards and presents), of the status quo of marriage and eventually, presumably, procreation.

Valentine’s Day was not intended to be for romance.  It was intended to celebrate St Valentine on a saint’s day set down by the Christian church (yet to become Catholic) in 496 CE by Pope Galesuis.  St Valentine was martyred according to the church in 269 for enabling persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire to marry.  Other origin myths do exist, but it was only with the celebrated English writer Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century that love became associated with the day with the ideals of courtly love first practised in France and adopted by England.  It was only in the 18th century when gifts to loved ones became popularised.  It was globalised by the ‘helpful’ intervention of the British Empire.

It’s a new story, but who can argue with a celebration of love.  I certainly don’t intend to.  I want to expand it!  Not by buying more and more gifts to physically maintain the ideal of status through belongings, and to imply or infer a monetary value to the love one gives to another.  No, I want to expand it by expressions of love to all.

  • To the lonely person who feels all the more lonely today – I love you.
  • To the disabled person whose body is seen as a battleground, not a ground for love – I love you.
  • To the prisoner who is punished, not rehabilitated, and whose future is made harder because of this – I love you.
  • To the person whose love is not seen as ‘normal’ in our hetero-normative society – I love you.
  • To the person whose gender identity is more often the butt of jokes rather than the love interest in our media – I love you.
  • To the person who does not want a relationship nor feels the need for one – I love you.
  • To the victim of domestic abuse fighting so hard to become a survivor – I love you.
  • To the oppressed who are struggling every day to be seen, heard and enfranchised – I love you.
  • To the oppressor who knows what pain they cause but is too scared, too entitled or to cruel to realise the damage they do – I love you.
  • To the people who hurt others deliberately and have an inability to feel empathy – I love you.
  • To the person struggling with mental health issues – I love you.
  • To those who feel unworthy, you are not. No-one is.  I love you.
  • To all those I have not listed specifically, I include you too and I love you.
The electricity of a beating heart. Beautiful and something we all share no matter who we are.

The electricity of a beating heart. Beautiful and something we all share no matter who we are.

It is harder by far to love those who hurt others, who offend you, who refuse to recognise their privilege and who maintain the normative standards in societies to the detriment, pain and suppression of others.  I still try to love them, to empathise with them, but will not agree with them or placate them.  That is not love; that is acquiescence.  It is a struggle, always.  Opposition is an expression of love and care, when tempered with empathy and self-honesty.

I hope that my love does not hurt others.  I strive to ensure my love will heal, or at the very least (for that is quite an arrogant thought!) will support.  I hope that my love will enable me to listen and to truly comprehend the struggles of those around the globe.  I hope that my love will do good, although in reality I know my privilege will sometimes restrict that.  I hope that my love will allow me the humility and pain to see through the consequences of my privilege and help me to work against it.

Most of all, I hope that we all have a Happy Valentine’s Day.  Let the tradition of sharing love be for more than the profit of gift companies and the entitlement of the privileged.

 

*olde English for sweetheart and my name for my partner in life and love.  Met at aged 31; beforehand I was very, very single for my entire life, through choice. I am his ‘Angel’ although I like to think a very fallen one!

Don’t Excuse Me, Please.

You may have seen the furore caused by Labour Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn’s use of the word ‘choose’ twice in a speech to the LGBTQIPA community recently. I have traced an interview with JC and the speech in full, in which the wording and context become clearer.  The Labour Party press office spokesperson stated in a comment to Pink News that “Jeremy clearly doesn’t believe that being gay is a choice.  He obviously meant people should be able to choose how they live their lives.”

jeremy-corbyn-pink-news

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Pink News Awards Ceremony 2016; he has a positive public political record with regard to LGBTQIPA issues.  That does not remove his privilege, nor would it mine in his place.

That is not good enough for me and more saddening was the litany of excuses that people were coming out with to explain and minimise, to excuse and, in the end, to silence those people who were angered by the wording.  The litany in and of itself shows the importance of the use of language and the meanings both implied and inferred.  That’s what this blog is about.

Here are some quotes from just one debate on Facebook, as an example and without use of names to protect the guilty (all sic):
Bollux..this is just another way of turning people against him…fuck sake , however he chose to word it is his way..people are sometimes too bloody sensitive to speaking PC language”

“ …and it is a choice.. we are born and make choices…whether it be sexuality, diet, thoughts, behaviour ,musical taste…”

“Jezza is coming from the place he feels passionate about. He’s not a bloody God, he’s human and if he worded something ‘slightly’ different from how other people would then so be it. Stop nitpicking at everything … His intentions are in the correct place. Grow the fuck up people. Peace!

Being attracted to men or women is a choice…spirit/emotion of a person is what your own spirit connects with.”

“We should all be mindful of not becoming too petty over an unfortunate choice of words / deliverance .. and stay strong ,supportive of his overall intention surely?

“A shitty ‘mistake’ but we need to keep striving for the ‘bigger picture’ and not getting so overly sensitive to and distracted by pettiness.

When those making such comments are questioned about their words, responses included:

“I respectfully disagree [to someone stating Jeremy Corbyn’s use of the words was casually homophobic terminology].  And for the record im absolutely not homophobic.”

“I hear you, yes, however maybe focus on healing your own strength and internal peace instead of looking for someone to blame … 💖 That’s how it comes across sometimes.

I’ve just had attacks in my direction for expressing something I think to be fine. If that has been misunderstood then I can’t help that, I haven’t meant to offend . This is why fb fucks me off.. keyboard warriors . #misunderstood

I have no problem at all with any of it. seems as though you enjoy the whole victim vibe and are ‘assuming’ I mean something I don’t. even now.”

“What I see here is you enjoy the platform of attention and arguing. And right here mocking what I’m trying to explain, like I’ve stated in other topics with other people, I guess I’m a bit crap at explaining myself in a way that is understood.

“Your attitude is like that of a bully, and I know youre not that. That’s how it’s coming across ..you know who I am so I ask that you don’t label me as being and meaning something that’s not true.

“And to add to your sentence about when you told me you were ‘gay’ , so what? I don’t care who or what you are..your choice.” (my bold)

“Ahhhhhh privilege….that’s the next argument then ?  Us and them   Etc…  Well I disagree….and maybe you could wind your neck in a little too…. I’ve had plenty of stuff I’ve had to stand for that I’ve been bullied/persecuted for over time…..or are you saying your situation is more important than mine ?”

Read through the above quotes carefully.  Look at the wording, comprehend the implications, and the inferences you may be making.  Note how any challenge to the inferences is met with turning around on the person challenging, without stopping to take a moment to try to reflect on what the people challenging who are of the identity about which the wording ‘choose’ has a direct oppressive effect.  It’s an insular, ego-centred form of thinking which is not partisan in politics or ideology.  All of us, including me, have this propensity.  For me, it lacks empathy which is what I consider the fundamental condition of us as humanes (‘e’ deliberate).

Note the use of words such as ‘petty’, ‘mistake’, ‘unfortunate’, ‘PC language’, ‘too bloody sensitive’, wind your neck in’, ‘looking for someone to blame’, and my favourite, ‘grow the fuck up, people’.  This comes from people who define and present themselves as left-wing, open-minded, caring people who don’t hold any form of bigotry within themselves.

Don’t make excuses for this or any other type of benign bigotry, because that is an oxymoron.  No bigotry is benign.  Don’t do it for even the most liberally and/or left-minded person.  Don’t do it especially for them; it’s a creeping toxic subconscious bigotry which begets and legitimises the more extreme actions and words).  Don’t make assumptions about what a person ‘might’ have meant, you don’t know that context and you can equally assume the worst with just as much validity.  Don’t excuse me or anyone else, please.

Don’t even say JC meant it was about the choice to live openly as an LGBTQIPA identifying person.  The use of choose or choice in the language used is still problematic because it is still about stating one has to choose to live one’s life in honesty and openness with oneself and those around you, and all the crap that comes with it through prejudice.   This doesn’t happen if you choose to live true to yourself if you are straight.

It is privilege not to recognise the impact of the words. They are harmful.

Living true to one’s sexuality should NEVER be a choice or have to be expressed as one. Telling anyone that their truth to live who they are is in any way a choice takes away the responsibility of anyone privileged not to be in those discriminated against groups to examine their own attitudes and understand what they are saying, believing and the impact it has on other’s lives.  I am shocked that this is not being understood.  That shock too, is my privilege.

We all have some form of privilege.  Don’t excuse actions or word because of that privilege.  We may not be to blame for our privilege but we do have the responsibility to address it.  Don’t excuse me from my responsibility, that just puts the responsibility on those who are discriminated against. You must not, you should not and you cannot.

Whether I am leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, your friend, your family, your parent or your child, don’t excuse me, please.

Save the NHS, Save the Country!

i-love-the-nhs

(Thanks to non-partisan political campaigning group 38 Degrees for the badge)

My recent Facebook status read:

For anyone on my friend’s list who thinks privatised healthcare is a good thing:
(a) Do you think a person with six pre-existing chronic conditions will find affordable insurance?;

(b) Do you think a person who is on two different forms of medication for the rest of their life will be able to find affordable insurance?;

(c) Do you think that a person with a pre-existing condition that will require chemo/radiotherapy/expensive cancer drugs at some point in the future but is unable to pinpoint when, will be able to find affordable insurance?

 If you have answered no to any of those questions, are you still happy with privatised healthcare being introduced in this country as a result of this?

If you have said yes, you have just denied me healthcare, and probably killed me, so please delete me from your friends list. Thanks.

(The intent of this is to personalise the issue and to show how this will affect people in real life. This is why the problems with the NHS have me scared to the point of panic and avoidance of the issue).

I am bloody terrified; having literal panic attacks at the thought of what is happening, has been happening, and will happen to the institution beloved by the majority* of people in this country, and what that will mean for me personally.  It’s a painful irony, and not a funny one, that the decreases in mental health funding and the crisis in the NHS is exacerbating mental health conditions and triggering stress flare-ups in chronic pain conditions for so many.

This is not some fearful fantasy cooked up by the left in a bid to defame the government.  After all, it is not just the current Conservative and previous coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrat governments which have caused the crisis.  Originally implemented in 1992 under the Conservative government of John Major, PFI was expanded across the board under the ‘new Labour’ government of Tony Blair to include a large injection of funds to the National Health Service.  Repaying these loans which charged interest above the standard rate left many Trusts in dire straits and directly led to the Save Lewisham Hospital A&E & Children’s/Maternity services campaign, which took Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health since 2012, and won.

He has since seen to it that the law has been amended so this does not happen again.

The Telegraph newspaper wrote in July 2015 that “The bill for private finance initiative (PFI) hospital schemes will hit £2 billion for the first time this year – or £3,729 every 60 seconds.”**

That is profit for private healthcare companies coming out of the NHS budget, which loans charge interest and have led to severe shortages in NHS provision and swingeing cuts across the board.

A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, informed me of their personal experience:

I’ve worked for a business delivering NHS services; … I was a Practice Manager. GP Partnerships have a primary interest in being doctors, doing what they do to help the masses. A business’ primary interest is… making money! So they have ghost patients (people who’ve moved abroad/away and have not re-registered with an alternative GP practice), they cut corners, they squeeze as much as they can from the staff, both clinical & administrative, they buy cheap equipment, have no interest in training staff to improve their skills, don’t follow “Good Practice Guidelines” when it comes to infection control (flooring & furniture that cannot be easily decontaminated), amongst other things because they don’t have to & because it’ll cut into their profits. I left because… IT FRIGHTENED ME – it would only be a matter of time, until something went drastically wrong. Apparently they got through 3 Practice Managers in a year, because none of us would lower our standards to suit “the business”… but it was an insight into what would be if we lost the NHS.”

This diagram shows the cost to the NHS simply for building new premises, as a result of PFI funding:

pfi-the-cost-to-the-nhs
(source: http://www.nhsforsale.info/privatisation-list/surgery/the-great-pfi-swindle.html)

If the NHS is forced into showing a profit for shareholders through funding from private initiatives, it is no longer putting patients first.  The fundamental principles upon which the NHS was founded by Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, on 5th July 1948, were***:

  • that it meet the needs of everyone
  • that it be free at the point of delivery
  • that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

These will no longer apply and indeed given the creeping privatisation already occurring, it could be said that they don’t apply already.

On Saturday 4th March 2017 there will be a National Demonstration starting at Tavistock Square, London at 12 noon in support of the NHS, organised by the People’s Assembly.  Further, and if you read this in time, there is an initial NHS Day of Action on Saturday 14th January.

To keep up to date on all NHS campaigns, and for useful tips on how to keep the momentum of protest and organisation going, go to the Stop the STPS homepage.

If you can’t attend the demonstration (or even if you can), write to your MP (details of whom can be found at They Work For You, along with their voting record if you are interested), sign petitions constantly in circulation, talk about the NHS and what it means to you, and keep the pressure on.

We are being watched by millions across the world, aghast at what we are doing to the best service our country has ever introduced.  The only people who do not feel shocked and empathise with our fears are those who will profit from privatisation, and those people are not the ones who so desperately need the NHS.

Don’t let anyone tell you the funding isn’t there.  In 2016 the government agreed to spend over £200billion on renewing Trident, our nuclear weapons stock.  An increase in taxes on the very rich, introduction of the Robin Hood Tax and closing up of tax loopholes exploited by individuals and businesses would more than meet the funding deficit.

You may not need the NHS much now, but we are an ageing and increasing population.  You will need it eventually and maybe sooner than you think.  Do all you can to make sure it is still there.  SAVE THE NHS.  You never know, the life you save could be your own.

*http://www.natcen.ac.uk/news-media/press-releases/2015/february/bsa-survey-reveals-overwhelming-support-for-the-nhs-but-the-public-don%E2%80%99t-mind-who-provides-care/

**http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/nhs/11748960/The-PFI-hospitals-costing-NHS-2bn-every-year.html

***http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/thenhs/about/Pages/nhscoreprinciples.aspx

nhs-nye-bevan